The Rock, needs no introduction.
It has a reputation, it's a place of legends.
It's been featured in a ton of movies & tv series.
Naturally, it was at the top of my list when I was in San Francisco, and it did not disappoint!
It's easy to see where the legends come from.
It's had its share of famous inmates, like Al
Machine Gun Kelly and
But its military history & the occupation by the Indians are not as widely known.
In a nutshell:
In the middle of the 19th century, Alcatraz started out as a military garrison, meant to protect the San Francisco bay.
Because of rapid advancements in military technology, it soon turned into a military prison: its isolation, and the extremely cold & strong currents make it nearly impossible to escape.
In 1933, Alcatraz became the federal prison it is now mostly known for. There were 14 escape attempts, or 36 different prisoners. Most of them were caught & some died. There are 5 whose fate is unknown, and are presumed to have drown.
In 1963, Alcatraz prison was closed until, in 1969, the island was overtaken by Indians in protest of the treatment of native Americans. The occupation ended 2 years later. In 1973, it was opened to the public.
The Alcatraz tour is without a doubt the best tour I've ever been on, but that's hardly a surprise given its colorful history. Take the excellent audio tour that will guide you through the prison: from the library to the mess hall, the recreation yard & the control room, the ruins of the warden's house, and most importantly: the cell blocks. Or you can hang around the rangers who'll tell you fascinating stories.
It was rumored to be the inescapable prison, yet so close to the San Francisco coast. Inmates could see the city at just 2 km (1.25 mi) away. With the wind blowing in the right direction, they must've been able to hear the noise from the bustling city. I'm sure that's enough to drive one insane.
And while there hasn't been a confirmed escape, there is some uncertainty about the escape of the Anglin brothers & Morris, of which you can learn all about on the tour!
Angel Island is a lesser known gem in the San Francisco Bay. It's the much bigger island north of Alcatraz that served, among other things, as immigration station (much like Ellis Island in New York) and a military post. The entire island is now a state park and can be visited year-round.
I didn't plan to visit Angel Island - I didn't even know it - but the only tour still available that day was the Alcatraz + Angel Island combo. And there were no afternoon tours that day to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate bridge, with the USS Iowa and USS Nimitz sailing into the bay.
Included in the ferry tickets is a 1 hour historic tram tour around the island. You'll get all sorts of information about the history of the island, and stop at a few places that provide a wonderful view of the bay - with the Golden Gate & Bay bridge, Alcatraz, and the San Francisco skyline in the distance.
But if you're into hiking, this is where you'll want to be. The island is not too large, but there are some nice trails & you'll get get to stretch your legs on some semi-challenging terrain. The top is the island, Mt. Livermore, is at 240 m (or 788 ft), and there will be plenty of scenic overlooks along the way.